Monday, January 13, 2014

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 2)

(In last week's post, we clearly defined expectations and wishes. Go here to read Part 1.)

Do Our Actions Betray Our Words?

Now, we may hone in on the implications of this discussion in our school settings. Consider the following two scenarios in light of how we have defined expectations and wishes. Reflect on whether you believe the teacher in each case is expressing a wish or an expectation.

Scenario 1
A teacher encourages her students while passing out the unit test in math class, "I have faith in all of you. Remember, you have learned all the material on this test. Have confidence. I know you will all do well. I expect everyone to pass with flying colors!" Behind the teacher, on the front board, is a note including the date, time, and policy for test re-takes for those that fail.

Scenario 2
Students enter the classroom after greeting their teacher at the door. A starter, or warm-up activity, is projected on the screen. Most students quickly take their seats and begin working on the starter. When the bell rings, the teacher enters the room and closes the door behind her. She notices a couple boys standing near their desks with no supplies out, conversing about their favorite parts of a movie they saw over the weekend. She calmly says to them, "You know the routine for how we start class everyday. Now, instead of being able to take attendance right away, I am taking time to address you about what you should be doing." Then, she asks, "What is your assigned task right now?" One boy answers with an eyeroll, "Do the starter." The teacher responds, "Good. Then, please do so now. Thank you."

Let's approach it from another angle. Read the following statements and decide if each item constitutes a wish or an expectation in your mind.

  • Students should have clean, organized lockers.
  • Students should be in class before the tardy bell rings.
  • Students need to show respect to adults by addressing them with words like "sir" and "ma'am."
  • Students are responsible for their own learning.
  • If students don't turn their work in on time, then they should fail.
Well, how did you label them? Was it difficult to fit any of them in one category or the other? What were your thoughts as you analyzed these beliefs?

Explicitly Communicating Expectations

There is a simple axiom that I wish (yes, wish; I don't expect it) was written across the front doors of all schools (and stores, businesses, houses, etc. for that matter): People cannot be held responsible for information they do not have.

We spend a great deal of time in education, appropriately so, talking about learning targets and objectives. We stress the importance of clearly defining our expected outcomes. In fact, we have almost developed an entire vocabulary in our field just for this topic. But whether we call them aims, goals, targets, outcomes, objectives, or "beginning with the end in mind," the point is still the same. The purpose is for teachers and students to know when they have met a particular objective and what it takes to show that they have met it.

If we do this with academic behaviors, then should it be any different with other behaviors? If not, then our premise is that for students to recognize and correct misbehavior, they must first be able to identify the expected behavior. A person only knows he missed a target if he can locate the target in the first place.
I doubt anyone gets more frustrated than me at this idea of having to inform and re-inform students of expectations that I personally believe should be a part of common sense. How many times have you wanted to scream, "You know that's wrong! Knock it off!"?

Still, it might be worth taking another look at just how clear we are being versus how clear we think we are being. I can't help but get a kick out of faculty meetings and staff development sessions. You, too, can have this same twisted sense of humor. Try this. Next time you are at a faculty meeting, count the number of times that audience members (yes, us) ask for directions to be repeated or clarified.

Before listing specific suggestions to help ensure that expectations are clear and explicit, there is one more important point. Contrary to the superstition attached to wishes ("Don't tell anyone or it won't come true."), there is a guarantee that goes with expectations. Don't tell everyone and it won't come true! If you want to ensure that people won't follow expectations, assume they already know them. be continued next week

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